The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2022

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JUL-AUG 2022 Issue
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An Unsettling Aesthetic Lexicon

aesthetics: organization and orientation of desire and matter into/as body; formation and function of sense, sensibility, common sense.

afar (from Dictée, “she comes from afar”): elsewhere; elsewhen; beyond; an artwork is always a view from beyond or without.

animéte(d): Antonym for life; aliveness, applicable specifically to Asia/n: alien; robotic; machinic; cyborgian; artificially intelligent; doll-like; cartoonish; monstrous; grotesque.

body: esp. Detritus, organization of matter into (see aesthetics).

circulation: as objects; material, knowledge, dis/eased, and affective circulation within individual, networked, and planetary bodies.

crowdedness: we are always a crowd, even when it appears we are singular, discrete, autochthonous.

culture: the limited sphere of appropriate content for Asian American art (my culture, your culture, their culture).

de/composition: the dis/organization of matter, of materials, of mattering, into forms that shape and press on recognizability, knowing, understanding, desire.

dis/ease: discomfort around certain bodies, environments, ideas, compounded by the fear of bodily infection (see Body).

dis/euse (from Dictée): one who speaks, and whose speech causes dis/ease.

[alt. crowdedness/decomposition]: “individuals” (images/objects) already stand in for (represent) the crowd, and are required to stand up for (represent) the crowd. The crowd (aka “Asiatic horde”) is perpetually degenerate(ing).

desire: driving, dissolving, determining, devastating.

entanglement: the condition of being indiscrete, non-sovereign, irrevocably relational.

Illiberal human(ism): what and who we are standing for and accompanying aesthetics, rationalities, social formations, infrastructures, and so on.

intimacy: knowledge and experience across scales of space and time, of bodies and being situated within crowdedness and thickness; dwelling/standing inside (art/text/object)—dissolution of subject/object divide.

lack/ing: a racialized correlation to Freud’s castration complex; not possessing or being enough of those virtues signified by the term(s) America(n).

life—aliveness (see too): despite, in spite of, inspiring.

mutual/ity (see entanglement): alternative way to conceive of body; crowdedness; intimacy; thickness.

Al-An deSouza, <em>Drift</em>, from Flotsam (1926-2018) series, 2021, 60 x 40 inches. Courtesy  the artist and Talwar Gallery, NY.
Al-An deSouza, Drift, from Flotsam (1926-2018) series, 2021, 60 x 40 inches. Courtesy the artist and Talwar Gallery, NY.

thickness: the distance between opposite sides of something: Asia >< America; the density of time: ante-Asia > < presentfuture; what has gone before is the condition of possibility for what comes after; an archaeological sensibility, layers upon layers, the temporal durations comprising artwork (literally the time it takes to live through, to conceptualize, to build, to layer paint, to read, to scroll, etc.).

too: —too Asian to be american; too american to be Asian; too ugly, too colorful, too busy, too crowded, too patterned, too decorative, too gay, too effete/feminine, too indulgent, too slight, too undisciplined, too unknowable.

unfinished (see life—aliveness): lack/ing; can never be complete or made whole.

within and contrary to: defamiliarizing, unsettling, disidentificatory.


Kandice Chuh

Kandice Chuh teaches at the CUNY Graduate Center and is the author of The Difference Aesthetics Makes: on the Humanities 'after Man’ (2019).

Al-An deSouza

Al-An deSouza is an artist, and author of two recent books: How Art Can Be Thought (2018), and Ark of Martyrs (2020).


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2022

All Issues